Trademark is about the power of words – one’s opinions of the product and the mark are understood to affect each other, so if you like the beverage Coca-Cola you get positive associations with the brand Coca-Cola and if you like the brand you’re more likely to buy Coca-Cola beverages. In the physical public domain, however, we pretend this trademark relationship doesn’t exist.
Suppose there were a horrible
Corporate naming rights are a huge deal. The new
Who chose Colonial? Was it the highest bidder?
Who wouldn’t be accepted? Enron was un-named from a stadium in
There are other situations with perhaps deeper social implications, where no private money is coughed up but the public’s money is spent on public buildings. Big example: the Thurmondization of South Carolina. As it turns out, 25-year-old (Wikipedia says 22-year-old) teacher Strom Thurmond got a 15-year-old pregnant, though he didn’t acknowledge the child for years. So they named the school after him. There are many Thurmond buildings, streets, lakes, etc. Is Thurmond a trademark? Do you impute your feelings about the man to the monuments, or vice versa? Aren’t students supposed to understand that Thurmond was a good guy? This isn’t just partisan: You can say the exact same thing about the Byrdization of West Virginia.
Thurmond didn’t wait for people to honor him; he asked to have a lake named for him for his 85th birthday, and Fritz Hollings et al. complied. The only problem is that the people around the lake, previously
Another set of controversies swirls around naming places for Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez, etc. Chris Rock has a routine about how, if you go to a
Bartow called for more democratic, transparent processes of naming. Very few women make it into the physical public domain. Street names become part of residents’ identity – compelled speech, in a way. Naming creates visibility, endorsement, validation. Though there are infinite possibilities in theory, we like Maple and
What’s needed are best practices. Maybe naming rights should go to the highest bidder, or be allocated by direct democracy. There are (sometimes controversial) Robert E. Lee high schools throught the South, as well as places named for the slaveowners Washington and Jefferson. Yet there are no Hitler high schools in
Sandy Levinson wrote a book, Written in Stone, about monuments and how we need to think hard about who we honor. Historical and cultural signifcance isn’t the same thing as worthy of being honored on a stamp or a statue. Jefferson Davis and Hugh Hefner merit scholarly attention, but not stamps, just as Lee Harvey Oswald and Al Capone don’t. To commemmorate, he argues, is to take a stand about value. But Bartow thinks he’s marginalized the women’s issues, with his odd reference to how Catharine MacKinnon would oppose a Hugh Hefner stamp while Levinson deals with weightier issues of value.